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Case Name Denbow v. Maine Department of Corrections PC-ME-0006
Docket / Court 1:20-cv-00175 ( D. Me. )
State/Territory Maine
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: This is a habeas action brought by a group of inmates in the the Maine Department of Corrections, seeking release of inmates due to COVID-19. The plaintiffs' claims were dismissed and the case is now closed.


A group of vulnerable prisoners brought this lawsuit ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: This is a habeas action brought by a group of inmates in the the Maine Department of Corrections, seeking release of inmates due to COVID-19. The plaintiffs' claims were dismissed and the case is now closed.


A group of vulnerable prisoners brought this lawsuit against the Maine Department of Corrections, alleging that the Department was not sufficiently protecting them against the threat of serious illness or death from the virus. Represented by the ACLU of Maine, they filed this petition for habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine on May 15, 2020. The petition was assigned to Judge John A. Woodcock, Jr.

The plaintiffs alleged that the Department was refusing to use medical furlough to reduce the risk of infection for inmates. One caseworker had told an inmate that “there’s nobody being released because of medical conditions, so you can get that idea right out of your head.” In fact, instead of releasing prisoners in an effort to de-densify, as correctional institutions across the country had done, the Department had added “many new technical requirements” for medical furlough. The plaintiffs additionally alleged that the precautions the Department was taking to protect against outbreaks in its facilities were insufficient to protect prisoners, especially medically vulnerable prisoners, from contracting the virus.

The plaintiffs sought to represent a class of “all current and future inmates who, by reason of age or medical condition, [were] particularly vulnerable to injury or death if they were to contract COVID-19.” They proposed 3 subclasses:
  • an Imminent Release Subclass, composed of inmates scheduled to be released within one year;
  • a Minimum Security Subclass, composed of inmates who posed a low security risk and who were housed in minimum-security or community-security settings; and
  • a Disabilities Subclass, composed of people who were medically vulnerable due to underlying medical conditions that qualified as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
They argued that the policy of keeping vulnerable prisoners in prison, when they could otherwise qualify for medical furlough or home confinement, was a violation of the Eight Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment; that the policy was a violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act for members of the Disabilities Subclass; and that because the policy was unconstitutional and unlawful, the members of the class and subclasses qualified for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. §2241.

They sought a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, a permanent injunction, an order of enlargement (an order requiring the Department to release prisoners on bail during the pendency of the habeas proceedings), and/or a writ of habeas corpus. They also sought a declaration that it was unconstitutional and unlawful for the Department to categorically deny medical furlough during the pandemic. They requested an order requiring the Department to identify all members of the class and subclasses within two days, to evaluate each class member’s eligibility for medical furlough, home confinement, or other accommodation, and to release enough prisoners “to ensure that all remaining persons are incarcerated...consistent with CDC guidance.”

On May 18, 2020, the plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The following day, the Department reported its first COVID diagnosis. On June 8, 2020, the court denied the motion for a temporary restraining order. The court held, among other things, that "[g]iven the relatively low number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in MDOC facilities and what the Court expects will be a rapid resolution of the request for a preliminary injunction, the Court does not see the need for temporary injunctive relief at this time." 2020 WL 3052220.

The Department moved to dismiss the lawsuit on June 22, 2020. The plaintiffs later moved to convert their claim, originally brought under 28 U.S.C. §2241, to an action under §2254. The Court granted this motion on July 15. 2020 WL 4004795.

On August 14, Judge Woodcock dismissed the plaintiffs' habeas claims without prejudice, and dismissed the motion for preliminary injunction as moot. 2020 WL 4736462. Judge Woodcock found that the plaintiffs had failed to exhaust their state remedies as they were statutorily required to do before seeking habeas relief. Although there may have been some common issues of fact, Judge Woodcock determined that Maine state courts could determine whether or not to permit the plaintiffs consolidate those issues. As such, because the petition was dismissed, the case is now closed.

Gregory Marsh - 07/28/2020
Justin Hill - 10/17/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Suspension Clause
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief denied
COVID-19
Mitigation Denied
Mitigation Requested
Release Denied
Release Requested
Crowding
Crowding / caseload
Defendant-type
Corrections
Disability
disability, unspecified
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable Modifications
Sanitation / living conditions
Totality of conditions
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Habeas
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241-2253; 2254; 2255
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) Commissioner of Maine Department of Corrections
Maine Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description Medically vulnerable inmates of the Maine Department of Corrections seeking for medical release, release to home confinement, or increased precautions against COVID-19.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Moot
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 05/15/2020
Case Closing Year 2020
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Denbow v. Liberty
ACLU Maine
Date: May 15, 2020
By: ACLU Maine
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
D. Me.
08/14/2020
1:20-cv-00175-JAW
PC-ME-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
D. Me.
05/15/2020
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 1, 1-1, 1-3, 1-9, 1-11]
PC-ME-0006-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
05/18/2020
Class Motion for Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction, With Incorporated Memorandum of Law [ECF# 5]
PC-ME-0006-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
05/18/2020
Declaration of Professor Judith Resnik Regarding Enlargement and the Use of Provisional Remedies for Detained Individuals [ECF# 5-1]
PC-ME-0006-0009.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
05/21/2020
Notice of Supplemental Authority [ECF# 16]
PC-ME-0006-0010.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
05/27/2020
Opposition to Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Incorporated Memorandum of Law [ECF# 19, 20 (& 20-1 to 20-8), 21]
PC-ME-0006-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
05/29/2020
Reply in Support of Temporary Restraining Order [ECF# 22 (& 22-1 to 22-8)]
PC-ME-0006-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
06/08/2020
Order on Motion for Temporary Restraining Order [ECF# 25] (2020 WL 3052220)
PC-ME-0006-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
06/22/2020
Respondents' Motion to Dismiss and Incorporated Memorandum of Law [ECF# 31 (& 31-1 to 31-18)]
PC-ME-0006-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
06/22/2020
Declaration of Dr. Ryan Thornell, Ph.D., in Support of Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 32]
PC-ME-0006-0011.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
06/22/2020
Declaration of Lisa Marchese, Deputy Attorney General, in Support of Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 33]
PC-ME-0006-0012.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
07/02/2020
Respondents' Memorandum of Law in Support of Application of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases to this Action [ECF# 35]
PC-ME-0006-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
07/10/2020
Petitioners' Memorandum Regarding the Applicability of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases [ECF# 38]
PC-ME-0006-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
07/13/2020
Petitioners' Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 40]
PC-ME-0006-0013.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
07/15/2020
Order on Conversion of Petition, Application of Habeas Rules, and Discovery Requests [ECF# 41] (2020 WL 4004795)
PC-ME-0006-0014.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
07/15/2020
[Defendants' Correspondence to Judge with Notice in Support of Motion to Dismiss] [ECF# 42]
PC-ME-0006-0015.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
07/17/2020
Correction to Affidavit of Dr. Ryan Thornell, Ph.D., in Opposition to Motion for Temporary Restraining Order [ECF# 44]
PC-ME-0006-0016.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
07/20/2020
Petitioners' Sur-Reply in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 45]
PC-ME-0006-0017.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Me.
08/14/2020
Order on Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 55] (2020 WL 4736462)
PC-ME-0006-0018.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Rich, John H. III Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-9000
Woodcock, John A. Jr. (D. Me.) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0005 | PC-ME-0006-0014 | PC-ME-0006-0018 | PC-ME-0006-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Asen, Taylor (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0001 | PC-ME-0006-0002 | PC-ME-0006-0004 | PC-ME-0006-0008 | PC-ME-0006-0010 | PC-ME-0006-0013 | PC-ME-0006-0017
Bond, Emma E. (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0001 | PC-ME-0006-0002 | PC-ME-0006-0004 | PC-ME-0006-0008 | PC-ME-0006-0010 | PC-ME-0006-0013 | PC-ME-0006-0017 | PC-ME-0006-9000
Heiden, Zachary L. (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0001 | PC-ME-0006-0002 | PC-ME-0006-0004 | PC-ME-0006-0008 | PC-ME-0006-0010 | PC-ME-0006-0013 | PC-ME-0006-0017 | PC-ME-0006-9000
Johnson, Miriam (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0001 | PC-ME-0006-0002 | PC-ME-0006-0004 | PC-ME-0006-0008 | PC-ME-0006-0010 | PC-ME-0006-0013 | PC-ME-0006-0017
Keshavarzi, Moe (California) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0001 | PC-ME-0006-0002 | PC-ME-0006-0004 | PC-ME-0006-0008 | PC-ME-0006-0010 | PC-ME-0006-0013 | PC-ME-0006-0017 | PC-ME-0006-9000
Kuljis, A. Alexander (California) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0001 | PC-ME-0006-0002 | PC-ME-0006-0004 | PC-ME-0006-0008 | PC-ME-0006-0010 | PC-ME-0006-0013 | PC-ME-0006-0017 | PC-ME-0006-9000
Nofsinger, Jodi (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0001 | PC-ME-0006-0002 | PC-ME-0006-0004 | PC-ME-0006-0008 | PC-ME-0006-0010 | PC-ME-0006-0013 | PC-ME-0006-0017
Sturgeon, Robert Trask (California) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0001 | PC-ME-0006-0002 | PC-ME-0006-0004 | PC-ME-0006-0008 | PC-ME-0006-0010 | PC-ME-0006-0013 | PC-ME-0006-0017 | PC-ME-0006-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bolton, Jonathan R (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-9000
Bolton, Jonathan R. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0003 | PC-ME-0006-0006 | PC-ME-0006-0007 | PC-ME-0006-0015
Frey, Aaron M (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0006 | PC-ME-0006-0007
O'Brien, Jillian R (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0003 | PC-ME-0006-0006 | PC-ME-0006-0007 | PC-ME-0006-9000
Ross, Alisa (Maine) show/hide docs
PC-ME-0006-0003 | PC-ME-0006-0006 | PC-ME-0006-0007 | PC-ME-0006-9000

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